SPRINGFIELD, MO. • Lutheran North senior winger Madison Buford wasn't in the mood for a consolation prize.
Senior teammate Kaylynn Hayden kept her head down as she was offered words of encouragement.
The Crusaders were right where they wanted to be down the stretch of the Class 3 state championship game on Friday.
But powerhouse Strafford used a fourth-quarter explosion to record a 61-53 win at JQH Arena on the Missouri State University campus.
The Indians (33-0) captured their fourth successive title and won their state-record 115th consecutive game.
Lutheran North (26-7) was perilously close to ending one of the longest winning streaks in the county. Yet the players were not satisfied with just coming close.
"We didn't win," Hayden said.
Added Buford, "It wasn't the result we wanted."
With their heads down, the Crusaders walked out into the night wondering what might have been.
Second-year coach Chris Forrest was also bothered by the loss.
But he also realized that his team put it all on the line and turned plenty of heads with its effort.
"Sure, it stings right now," Forrest said, "But I couldn't ask for anything more from my girls."
The Crusaders have spent the last couple years trying to chase down Strafford, which is located 10 miles east of Springfield. They invited the Indians up for a regular-season game and gained some confidence by hanging close for three quarters before dropping a 64-55 decision on Dec. 21.
"For two years, we've been working our butts to get better," Forrest said. "We have extremely high standards and every one of these girls really thought we could do this."
Strafford was given its toughest test in two years. But the Indians stayed the course during crunch time.
Senior Hayley Frank led the way with 34 points and 11 rebounds. She put the team on her back during the second half.
Lutheran North bolted out to leads of 7-0 and 16-10 behind Buford and Hayden. Buford finished with 14 points. Hayden added nine points and eight rebounds.
The Crusaders took their last lead, 36-35, on a short jumper by Nevaeh Howard with 56 seconds left in the third period.
Strafford pushed its advantage to 43-38 early in the fourth quarter on a basket by Hayley Frank.
But Lutheran North responded with jumpers from Hayden and Taleah Dilworth to get to within 43-42.
Following a Strafford turnover, the Crusaders had a chance to take the lead, but White missed a baseline jumper.
The Indians answered with two free throws from Kayley Frank and a 3-pointer from Hayley Frank.
Strafford then closed the game with 13 points in the final 3 minutes, 44 seconds to nail down the triumph.
The Stafford players celebrated by jumping into their large student section in a Lambeau Leap fashion.
The 6-foot-1-inch Hayley Frank, who is headed to Mizzou, realizes her team was in a battle.
"They came out ready to go," said Frank, who finished her career with 3,004 points. "They had our number and wanted us bad."
Strafford senior guard Kyndall Compton also enjoyed the tight contest.
"It made it more fun," Compton said. "I'm glad it was a close game. It made it so special."
Forrest believes his players will eventually realize that the second-place effort is meaningful.
"The legacy that (this team) is going to leave is the best four years of basketball this school has ever had," Forrest said.